This article is by staff writer Adam Baker. Baker recently listed the Top 10 Money Movies of the Decade. Baker and his family are spending their holiday season hiking around the south island of New Zealand.

I have some potentially shocking news for you: Christmas is coming! No, I’m not talking about the one in a few days; I’m referring to the one that’s coming just twelve months down the road.

Far too many people — including me — let Christmas sneak up on us. Suddenly, somewhere around late October or early November, it hits us: Christmas is right around the corner and our budget is going to have to catch up.

I hate to break it to you, but Christmas takes place on the exact same date every year. There’s no reason it should have the opportunity to surprise us or our budgets.

So this year, even before Santa makes his rounds, give yourself an early present by taking the following steps:

  1. Review this year’s spending. Take stock of the budget you had this year. How much did you spend? How many people were on your list? Are you happy with this number, or would you like to raise or lower it next year?
  2. Estimate next year’s Christmas budget. Based on your level of contentment with this year’s spending, determine an amount for next holiday season. Is your immediate family growing or shrinking (moving away, maybe)? Are you determined to make more homemade Christmas gifts next year to save money? Decide now.
  3. Divide your estimate by 12. Obviously, this is to reflect contributing once a month for each of the twelve months of the year. If you have a unique budgeting system that works, you could break this down into biweekly (26) or even weekly (52). Apply it to whatever system works best for you.
  4. Automate regular withdrawals. Regardless of whether you choose weekly or monthly, have the funds transfer at regular intervals into a separate account. Many of you already have systems for automated savings and can just plug in next year’s Christmas starting now. If you don’t yet have a system, try creating a specific account that is liquid, but inconvenient to get to. You may want to test out on online savings account.
  5. Start today! By making your first payment now, you’ll be finished with monthly payments in November. That’ll give you plenty of time to finalize any last-minute gift shopping. The longer you put it off, the more you are going to have to set aside each month.

I don’t want to zap all the fun out of your holiday season. But by starting to save for next year’s Christmas today, your wallet will be thanking you for the early gift this time next year!

Courtney and I wish you and your family a happy and healthy Christmas holiday.